Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte blocks Senate attempt to probe guards’ use of Covid-19 vaccine

The Senate plans to conduct an inquiry into the government’s vaccination plan next week and some senators want the head of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) to appear and explain the unit’s actions, which they said were illegal.

“Do not obey the summons,” Duterte told PSG chief Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante in a late-night televised address. “I am ordering you to stay put in the barracks.”

Durante last week said a handful of unit members used the vaccine “in good faith” because they could not afford to wait for regulatory approval, adding the President was only informed afterward. He did not name the vaccine used or say how it was obtained.

Duterte, who has commended his security detail for their “loyalty and courage” in inoculating themselves, said they did it for “self-preservation.”

“I am prepared to defend my soldiers. I will not allow them, for all of their good intention, to be brutalized in the hearing,” Duterte said.

His spokesman, Harry Roque, said the military detail broke no laws.

“The President is saluting the PSG for what they did. They risked their lives to protect our President,” Roque told a media briefing.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week called the PSG’s move “justified” even as he said the vaccines they gave themselves as far back as September, without his knowledge, had been smuggled into the Philippines.

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration has not approved a Covid-19 vaccine — making the importation, distribution and sale of a coronavirus vaccine illegal — and warned of potential dangers from using vaccines it has not cleared.

It has said it was working with the Bureau of Customs to determine how the vaccines were brought into the country.

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Philippines’ Duterte absolves police chief over COVID-19 lockdown birthday party

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday (Nov 14) cleared his newly appointed police chief of any violation of rules when he celebrated his birthday in May during one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns.

In a national address, Duterte defended police chief Debold Sinas, promoted on Monday to national police commander from Manila police boss, and noted his appointee’s achievements despite a social media stir over perceived special treatment.

Sinas had led anti-drug operations in which thousands of people were killed.

“If he has (committed) any offence, he is pardoned already. I do not see any wrongdoing with moral implications and malice,” Duterte said, adding that Sinas was not at fault for receiving a surprise festivity.

Sinas has been under investigation by the justice ministry for celebrating his birthday with fellow officers in May despite coronavirus curbs and at a time police were arresting thousands of people for quarantine violations. He has apologised for “causing anxiety to the public”.

It was not immediately clear if Duterte’s comments meant those investigations were no longer active. Contacted for comment by Reuters, justice minister Menardo Guevarra said in a text message: “I did not hear what the president said exactly. I need to know the context.”

Sinas’s appointment to lead the Philippines’ 200,000-strong police force was met with activists’ concerns of unchecked human rights abuses. Rights group say the police had summarily executed suspects, but police say those suspects had violently resisted arrest.

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DPWH reports 25 contractors blacklisted since 2016; Duterte tells corrupt officials to ‘resign now’


THE Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) reported on Friday that it has so far blacklisted 25 contractors since 2016 as President Rodrigo R. Duterte again rebuked the agency and told corrupt officials to “resign now.”

Mr. Duterte, in a televised address Friday evening, said “ghost projects” are the most rampant source of corruption, referring to infrastructure programs that do not get delivered.

“We are still investigating DPWH. Ang DPWH ang pinaka-racket diyan is ‘yung ghost project. So walang delivery, ghost project. Marami ‘yan (In the DPWH, their main racket is ghost projects. There is no delivery of the program, ghost project. There’s a lot of that in DPWH),” he said.

DPWH Secretary Mark A. Villar, meanwhile, said the blacklisting of contractors is tied to the sanctioning of officials who are colluding with them.

“This is a testament that collusion between contractors and DPWH officials is not being tolerated. If any of our implementing offices are tolerating erring contractors by letting them continue with their projects without sanctioning them, the Department will not hesitate in imposing disciplinary action against them,” Mr. Villar said in a statement on Friday.

Mr. Villar noted that the DPWH has banned the biggest number of contractors in the last four years compared to five from 2010 to June 2016, and eight in 2005 to 2010.

The DPWH has also adopted new systems such as the use of drones and satellite photography or geotagging for real-time monitoring of projects.

Mr. Duterte, who recently ordered a government-wide anti-corruption drive, has repeatedly pointed to the public works department as among the agencies with the most fraudulent activities.

At the same time, the President has cleared Mr. Villar from involvement in the anomalies.

“For the longest time, there was not much investigation being undertaken, but those involved in those anomalies, I advise you to resign now… because when the time comes, I will throw the book at you, even the kitchen sink,” Mr. Duterte said.

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, in a briefing on Friday, said the President’s “mega task force” assigned to probe corruption in the entire government will be responsible for auditing DPWH projects. — Gillian M. Cortez

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Duterte seeks best Covid vaccine deal but ‘will not beg’ or allow private suppliers to rip off Philippines — RT World News

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he would pursue a direct government-to-government deal for a coronavirus vaccine with either China or Russia, warning that ‘corrupt’ private suppliers could try to swindle his country.

“Let me tell everybody that we will not beg, we will pay,” Duterte said in a televised address on Monday night, adding that while Manila is not seeking charity it also aims to sign a direct government-to-government deal without intermediaries.

The president did not indicate the status of vaccine negotiations with Beijing or Moscow, saying he merely mentioned the two countries as possible sources out of a “sense of urgency,” and that “all options” were still on the table.

The one that could give us the best interest for the country will be chosen.

Duterte stressed the need to obtain an inoculation directly from a friendly foreign state, rather than a private business, warning that such transactions could only bring “trouble” and that a government deal would mean “no corruption.”

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Western pharma is ‘all about profit’: Philippines’ Duterte vows to solely procure coronavirus vaccines from Russia & China

Under its proposed national budget for 2021, Manila will devote some 2.5 billion Philippine pesos ($51.6 million) to vaccine procurement, which Duterte said would be overseen by Finance Secretary Carlos ‘Sonny’ Dominguez III.

“Since he is going to pay, I will listen to Sonny. If there are no funds, he will go to jail,” the president said, apparently threatening prison time for a member of his own cabinet.

Duterte previously torched Western pharma firms developing coronavirus immunizations, saying they were “all about profit,” pointing to some companies who asked for a “cash advance before they deliver the vaccine.” The leader gave a stern warning to any company who offered similar proposals, vowing “I’ll kick your a**.”

Though the president has offered to be the first in his country to take the jab developed in Russia, Sputnik V, it is not clear whether such an arrangement has been made. However, Moscow’s ambassador to the island nation, Igor Khovaev, recently stated the jab could be available to the Philippines by the end of the year.

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Philippines’ Duterte promises payment as Red Cross stops COVID-19 tests

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday his government will pay the 931 million pesos ($19.25 million) it owes the Red Cross after the humanitarian agency stopped conducting COVID-19 tests.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC), which has conducted 1.1 million swab tests and accounts for quarter of the country’s output, on Friday stopped providing testing services until it gets paid, prompting the country’s limited number of laboratories to fill the gap.

“The president has given his commitment that the government will pay its obligation to the PRC,” Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said in a statement. The government is calling on the PRC to resume its testing services, Roque added.

Returning overseas Filipino workers, frontline healthcare workers and individuals in large swabbing facilities benefit from free COVID-19 swab tests by the PRC. Testing cost is charged to Philippine Health Insurance Corp (Philhealth), the state health insurer.

But PRC said Philhealth had 931 million pesos in overdue obligations as of Oct. 13, hampering its ability to replenish test kits and pay for laboratory workers.

Returning Filipino workers need to test negative from COVID-19 before being allowed to leave quarantine hotels. The presidential office asked for patience and understanding of stranded overseas Filipino workers as it resolves the issue.

PRC said it would still conduct swab tests for paying clients.

With 365,799 confirmed infections and 6,915 deaths, the Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia.

($1 = 48.36 Philippine pesos)

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Philippines has funds for coronavirus vaccines — Duterte

The Philippines can buy vaccines against the coronavirus once they become available, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said on Wednesday night, noting that he had found the funds for these.

“I have the money already for the vaccine,” he told an online news briefing after meeting with some Cabinet members. He did not elaborate.

He said he would look for more funds so all Filipinos could be vaccinated. The President said he was okay with vaccines developed either by Russia or China.

Mr. Duterte said he had spoken with outgoing Russian Ambassador Igor A. Khovaev and was told that Russia intends to set up a pharmaceutical company in the Philippines that will make the vaccines available here.

He said soldiers and the police will be among the first ones to be vaccinated, along with poor Filipinos.

The Department of Health (DoH) last week said an inter-agency task force led by the Department of Science and Technology was preparing for COVID-19 vaccine phase clinical trials in November.

Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. have applied for phase 3 clinical trials in the country.

DoH reported 1,910 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 346,536. The death toll climbed by 78 to 6,499, while recoveries increased by 579 to 293,860. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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Duterte wants entire Philippine population vaccinated for COVID-19

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday (Oct 14) his government has the money to procure coronavirus vaccines but he would need more as he wants to inoculate the country’s entire population.

The government aims to get vaccines to all Filipinos, which Duterte said now number around 113 million, but priority will be given to the poor, the police and military personnel.

“All should have the vaccine without exception,” Duterte said in a late-night televised address.

The firebrand leader repeated that he prefers COVID-19 vaccine supplies to come from either Russia or China. Both have submitted applications to conduct clinical trials for their inoculations in the Philippines.

“For me, either China or Russia, I am ok,” Duterte said.

Apart from China’s Sinovac Biotech and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute, the Philippines is also evaluating Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit’s application to conduct Phase 3 trials of its COVID-19 vaccine.

It has had talks with other potential vaccine suppliers, including US drugmaker Pfizer and Moderna.

The Philippines recorded 1,910 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, and 78 more fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 346,536 cases, the highest in Southeast Asia, and 6,449 deaths.

It has been gradually reopening the economy to allow more businesses to resume operations and more people to go back to work, but partial restrictions in and around the capital Manila remain to keep the virus spread in check.

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Duterte orders Congress to hold special session on budget


President Rodrigo R. Duterte has called on Congress to hold a special session next week to avoid any delays in passing the budget for 2021. This after the House on Tuesday suspended sessions earlier than scheduled as part of the ongoing intramurals over the speakership.

In a statement released on Friday evening, Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said, “President Rodrigo Roa Duterte today, Oct. 9, has called the Congress to a special session scheduled on Oct. 13-16, 2020 to resume the congressional deliberations on the proposed 2021 national budget and to avoid any further delays on its prompt passage.”

In a video released shortly after, Mr. Roque said, “Ginawa po ito ni Presidente dahil importanteng maipasa, maisabatas ang proposed 2021 national budget dahil ito po ang gagamitin natin laban sa COVID-19 pandemic.” (The President has done this because it is important to pass, make legal the proposed 2021 national budget because it is what we will use against the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Don’t hold budget hostage

In an interview with CNN Philippines earlier on Friday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said congressmen should “not hostage” next year’s spending plan after House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano suspended the session in Congress until Nov. 16 in the middle of the 2021 budget deliberations

Mr. Duterte on Thursday evening warned Mr. Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Q. Velasco to settle their rivalry over the House Speakership sharing deal and urged them to pass the 2021 budget on time.

“I believe that the House of Representatives should convene and begin again budget deliberations and pass the budget before the break… there is an opportunity to pass the budget as promised and as calendared,” said Mr. Nograles. “That’s the message of the President, that it (the suspension of hearings) shouldn’t have happened because they should have stuck with the calendar,” he added.

Mr. Cayetano announced the suspension on the same day the House of Representatives passed the 2021 national expenditure plan on its second reading.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cayetano’s rival for the speakership said Mr. Duterte was angered by his moves to derail the expected speakership turn-over on Oct. 14. “I just wanna say because I can see the anger of the President. Actually the President used the word, ‘Lord, we were both fooled,” said Mr. Velasco, speaking about a meeting in the Palace on Monday during in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel on Friday.

Under a gentleman’s agreement brokered by Mr. Duterte in 2019, Mr. Cayetano would sit as House Speaker for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress, while Mr. Velasco would succeed him for the remaining 21 months. During a meeting with the President on Sept. 29 with some key allies to settle the speakership deal, Mr. Cayetano agreed to resign on Oct. 14, said Mr. Velasco.

On a Facebook Live video shown Thursday night, Mr. Cayetano apologized to the President and the nation “for having added anxiety to an already uncertain situation” but noted that all the actions that have been taken by the House are “legal, constitutional, and in line with time honored precedents in the House.”

Mr. Cayetano assured the administration that the House would submit the printed budget to the Senate on Nov. 5.

He said this would allow the Senators to proceed with their own hearings and prepare the way for the formal transmittal of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill on Nov. 16 when the House is expected to approve it on Third and Final Reading.

“Neither I nor the other members of Congress will sacrifice the budget in this time for political expediency,” he said. — Gillian M. CortezandKyle Artistophere T. Atienza

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Duterte gets rare praise for raising sea feud ruling at UN

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president got rare praises Wednesday from his key critics for invoking before the United Nations a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, in a surprise move that will likely pique Beijing.

President Rodrigo Duterte made one of his strongest defenses of the Philippine victory in the arbitration case in his first address before the annual U.N. General Assembly where world leaders spoke mostly in prerecorded videos due to the pandemic. China has long refused to bring the issue to any international arena.

Duterte, who has nurtured close ties with China since taking office in mid-2016, has long been criticized for refusing to immediately and forcefully demand Chinese compliance with the ruling by a U.N.-backed tribunal. It found China’s claims on virtually the entire South China Sea on historical grounds inconsistent with international maritime law.

China refused to take part in the arbitration, which was initiated by Duterte’s predecessor, and has dismissed the ruling as a “sham.” Beijing prefers direct negotiations with each of its rival claimant states and has vehemently refused to have the long-raging disputes internationalized for fears the United States and its allies would find a way to intervene.

Duterte welcomed the increasing number of countries that have expressed support for the ruling, which he said stood for “the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition.”

“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” Duterte said, without naming China. “We firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”

Chinese officials did not immediately issue any reaction.

Albert del Rosario, a former Philippine foreign secretary who brought the disputes with China to international arbitration, said he was heartened by Duterte’s move. By underscoring the decision before the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, Duterte “has acted more faithfully to our constitution, which mandates him and our military to secure our country’s sovereignty and protect our lands and seas,” del Rosario said.

He urged the Duterte administration to secure the backing of more countries so the ruling could be raised more emphatically in next year’s U.N. General Assembly.

Antonio Carpio, a retired Philippine Supreme Court justice who helped in the arbitration case, commended Duterte and hoped that “this is the policy that the Duterte administration will implement across all levels” in protecting Philippine maritime rights and seeking international support to enforce the ruling.

“Mr. Rodrigo Duterte’s 360-degree turn … is a big victory for international law and Philippine sovereignty against his own defeatist policy on China,” former human rights chief Etta Rosales said, adding the president succumbed to pressure for him to uphold international law.

Duterte also defended his deadly anti-drug crackdown and played down criticism from human rights advocates in his speech. He has previously harshly criticized the U.N. for raising alarm over his campaign against illegal drugs and threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the world body, which he says his government now values for its role in fighting the global coronavirus pandemic.

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Philippine President Duterte fails to produce results from pro-China stance

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Kenzaburo Fukuhara | Kyodo News | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — After more than four years in power, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is still struggling to show that his country has benefited froma closer alliance with China.

In a dramatic shift in the Philippines’ foreign policy, Duterte declared in 2016 the country’s “separation” from the U.S. — a military ally — and announced closer ties with China.

Among other things, the president also set aside his country’s territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea, in exchange for billions of dollars that China pledged in infrastructure investments.

But much of those promised investments have not materialized and many of those projects were delayed or shelved, while anti-Chinese rhetoric has been growing louder within Duterte’s own government and among the Philippine public.

So on all counts, Duterte is increasingly accused of having abased himself before Beijing and gotten nothing for it.

Greg Poling

Center for Strategic and International Studies

“China has launched just two of the pledged infrastructure projects — a bridge and an irrigation project — and both have hit major snags that could scuttle them altogether,” said Greg Poling, senior fellow for Southeast Asia and director of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Beijing has also not backed off on harassing Filipino forces and civilians in the South China Sea. So on all counts, Duterte is increasingly accused of having abased himself before Beijing and gotten nothing for it,” Poling told CNBC in an email.

Rising domestic political pressure

Duterte’s conciliatory approach toward China is not shared by most of the Philippine public, who continue to view other global and regional powers more favorably.

In a July survey by pollster Social Weather Stations, Filipinos were found to trust the U.S. and Australia more than China. Notably, trust in China was worse than the same survey conducted in December last year.

Such deterioration in public sentiment against China coincided with the coronavirus pandemic — which ravaged the Philippine economy — and Beijing’s continued aggression in the South China Sea where the two countries have overlapping territorial claims.

All that “increased domestic political pressure on Duterte to recalibrate his pivot to China,” Peter Mumford, practice head for Southeast and South Asia at Eurasia Group, told CNBC via email.

The Philippines in recent months made several foreign policy moves against China that analysts said were noteworthy coming from the Duterte government:

The Philippines and China have for years clashed over competing claims in the resource-rich waterway where trillions of dollars of global trade pass through annually. The Southeast Asian country — under former President Benigno Aquino III — took China to court.

In 2016, shortly after Duterte took office, an international tribunal ruled that portions claimed by both countries belong to the Philippines alone.

China ignored the ruling, while critics said Duterte did little to demand compliance from Beijing. Even while China-skeptic voices within his administration grew, Duterte stayed largely silent, analysts noted.

Running out of time

As a whole, remarks critical of China from Duterte’s own cabinet “do not signal an imminent shift in the administration’s stance towards China,” said Dereck Aw, a senior analyst at Control Risks.

He explained to CNBC that those comments “should be viewed as deliberate attempts to placate domestic stakeholders, such as growing parts of military and the public, that are skeptical about Duterte’s China policy.”

“Ties between China and the Philippines will remain stable as long as Duterte is president,” he said, adding that Duterte may sometimes turn to “nationalistic rhetoric” to help his preferred successor in the 2022 presidential election.

“But actions speak louder than words: the Duterte administration will continue to deepen economic engagement with China and to refuse to internationalise the South China Sea dispute,” Aw said in an email.

But with less than two years left in his six-year term, Duterte is running out of time to get the economic results he had wanted from Beijing.

Eurasia Group’s Mumford noted that despite the largely unfulfilled Chinese promises, Duterte’s argument is that his country is still “better off” in avoiding aggression with China given the “asymmetry of power” between them.

“Nevertheless, Duterte is coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate the gains from relations with China,” he said.

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